HANNIBAL, Mo. -- A new book released last week puts a surprising new ending on a 52-year-old Hannibal story.
Two years ago, Hannibal native John Wingate released his first book about the disappearance of three Hannibal boys who were last seen on May 10, 1967, near some cave openings on Hannibal's south side.
The boys' disappearance triggered a massive search. More than 200 cavers from across the country converged on Hannibal to explore the labyrinth of underground passageways, including Murphy's Cave and some newly opened cave entrances where road construction was taking place along what is now Mo. 79.
Wingate's book, "Lost Boys of Hannibal: Inside America's Largest Cave Search," noted that the boys -- Edwin Craig Dowell, 14, and brothers Joel Hoag, 13, and Billy Hoag, 11 -- were never found despite month-long search efforts.
Many people, including Wingate, speculated that the boys likely became trapped or smothered deep underground by tons of collapsed rock after cave walls and ceilings became cracked and unstable from explosive charges used by road-building crews.
But now, in a new book, Wingate is advancing a different theory -- one that suggests the boys may have been victims of serial killer John Wayne Gacy, who was convicted of murdering 33 boys and men in the Chicago area between 1972 and 1978.
This theory contends Gacy encountered the Hannibal boys near the caves, offered them a ride home, then drove them to a nearby wooded area and assaulted, killed and buried them.
"For 52 years, the consensus has been that the three Hannibal boys were lost in a calamitous collapse inside the cave," Wingate said. "But now this whole situation has rewritten that history and changed the ending from ‘missing' to ‘murder.' "
Wingate expounds on the Gacy theory in his new book, "Souls Speak: Missing children reveal their serial killer from beyond," which became available Wednesday on Amazon.com.
Wingate said he started investigating the theory a year ago -- around the same time he was making stops in Hannibal and Quincy, Ill., to sign copies of his first book.
That's when he began hearing separately from three women, ages 26 to 31, who claim to be psychics. All three suggested they had similar visions that Gacy was to blame for the disappearance and deaths of the Hannibal boys.
"The psychics maintain that the tree boys were tortured, sodomized, suffocated, strangled and buried in one grave," Wingate said.
"I had no idea this was coming," he said. "This is a story that found me."
Wingate said his first encounter with one of the psychics came last spring while he was doing a book signing at the Mark Twain Museum in Hannibal for "Lost Boys." While giving a presentation, he noticed a woman in the audience was crying and visibly upset.
Wingate later learned the woman was a psychic from southern Missouri who reportedly "saw the three boys' spirit energy manifest up front when I was speaking," he said. "That was the start of it."
Several weeks later, Wingate said, he received a call from a sister of the Hoag brothers who told him she had just visited a psychic in Hannibal who told her: "I can tell you without a doubt the boys were killed by John Wayne Gacy."
Then in July of last year, a third woman -- an "evidential clairvoyant" in Wyoming who helps police solve crimes -- was looking at photographs of the three Hannibal boys when "all of a sudden she was overwhelmed with these images" of John Wayne Gacy brutalizing and burying the boys, Wingate said.
This wasn't the first time Gacy's name has come up in connection with the missing youths. In 1978, after Gacy was arrested "and all of his darkness was revealed," Wingate said, many rumors and questions surfaced in Hannibal about whether Gacy could have been in town when the three boys vanished in 1967.
He said Hannibal police contacted the FBI back then to inquire about any possible Gacy connections. As it turned out, Gacy was living and working in Waterloo, Iowa, in 1967, while his mother was living in Little Rock, Ark. Wingate said if Gacy were to go visit his mother, "driving from Waterloo to Little Rock, he would take Highway 61, which takes you right through Hannibal."
Wingate says he was skeptical when he heard from the three female psychics who all sensed a connection between Gacy and the missing Hannibal boys.
"I've always been skeptical of this stuff," he said. "But each of these clairvoyants corroborated the others' findings independently."
As he further explored the possibility of Gacy's involvement, Wingate kept finding other connections.
For example, during the massive cave search for the boys in 1967, there were reports in Hannibal that a "mystery man" had been hanging around for a couple days near the cave openings where road construction was occurring -- a place where the three boys had been playing in the days prior to their disappearance.
"They had been seen darting down into those caves on May 8 and May 9," Wingate said. "They were last seen up on the road watching the construction on May 10 at about 5:15."
The mystery man, meanwhile, "was no longer seen at that location after the boys went missing," Wingate said.
Two of the psychics told Wingate that "John Wayne Gacy was that mystery man," he said.
As part of his research, Wingate said he drove the psychics separately though parts of the Hannibal area on different dates in August and September of 2018. He said all three women identified some of the same key locations in connection with Gacy and the missing boys.
"I wanted to see what they picked up on. And without exception, all three of them picked the same locations" where the boys were ostensibly killed and buried.
"In all three cases, we'd find ourselves standing at the same location on three different days," he said. "It's beyond coincidence."
One of the psychics even suggested that Gacy was involved in the disappearance and deaths of two Monroe City boys -- John Wagner in February 1968 and Rickey Enochs in June 1977.
Wingate said he realizes the psychic-driven theories about Gacy's involvement will sound far-fetched to many people. "But I decided just to lay it out and let people decide for themselves" if there's any merit to the story.
Wingate is scheduled to sign copies of his new book from 6 to 8 p.m. Aug. 2, at Quincy Books and Toys, 3800 Broadway, and will sign books and give a presentation from 2 to 4 p.m. Aug. 3, at the Mark Twain Museum in Hannibal.